Home Societal / Political Freedom Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia

Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia

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The Future of Authoritarianism and Nationalism in Estonia

It is becoming increasingly clear in Eastern Europe that the Iron Curtain was set up and sustained as much by the West as by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. As seems to have been the case with many other aspects of twentieth-century world economics and politics, the Iron Curtain appears to have been a tacit collusion between two major power blocks. The West benefited from the loss of competition from such countries as Hungary and Estonia that have had periods of economic prosperity and that embrace a strong work ethic. The Soviet Union benefited from the presence of these economic resources to counteract the less ambitious men and women from republics without a strong work ethic. Both countries in the West (Western Europe and North America) and the East (Soviet Union) were interested in a universal community and the elimination of national identities. They only disagreed on who dictates the terms of this universality—and countries such as Estonia and Hungary were caught in the middle of this disagreement.

Europeanism or Nationalism

The tension between East and West was apparent in the psyche and perspectives of the Estonians I interviewed during the early 1990s. Many of the Estonians (and Hungarians) were initially hesitant to leap into another identity-diffusing scheme, such as the European Community (later evolving into the European Union: EU). Citizens of both these countries had to struggle during the 1990s with the issue of membership in the western European community.

Because they have just recovered their individual national identity, citizens of both countries may have been hesitant to sacrifice it in favor of a broader European identity. Are we now Estonians or Europeans? Where will be our primary allegiance: to Estonia or the EU? The EU raised the possibility of a meta-identity as “European,” which either threatened (and provoked) nationalism in Estonia or creates a real alternative and a real opportunity for the citizens of this country to no longer be locked out of Europe. The tension was being played out between the rationalists and the nationalists.

The rationalists won out. The hesitation fell away during the years following the Soviet collapse. Concerns about the loss of national identity took a back seat with the prospects of protection and economic benefits. Currently, both Estonia and Hungary are members of the European Union. In both countries, however, there is still ambivalence about the trade-offs between nationalism and Europeanism. The same ambivalence is to be found in virtually every other member of the European Union. With the immigration issue becoming a point of major contention and with Brexit disrupting the finances and coherence of the EU, we are witnessing a Europe-wide shift in favor of nationalism.

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